Fresh on the heels of Connacht’s season coming to an end, everyone else (bar Benetton) had theirs prematurely truncated as well, with a selection of dead rubbers now on offer for the weekend. Only the Sharks can upset the table order by thrashing the Bulls at home.
With only academic interest in the Rainbow Cup for Connacht fans, attention turns to England and France, where our potential opponents for next season’s Champions Cup are being decided.
EPCR have yet to announce the format, but they have confirmed that 24 teams will participate and the assumption seems to be that the ostensibly temporary format adopted for this season will persist. If all the same rules stay in place, Connacht, as a Tier 2 side, i.e. one that finished third or fourth, will play one of the Tier 3 sides from each of England and France.
For the Premiership, that translates to the team in fifth, certain to be Northampton, and sixth, which in theory could be Bath, but will almost certainly be the winner of the final day clash between Wasps and Leicester. So no-one Connacht haven’t played recently, but there’s a chance that we might get to witness a trip to Welford Road in person. The bookies have Wasps as 3 point favourites so that one might be worth a watch at 3pm on Saturday.
Across La Manche, after last weekends end-of-regular-season drama that saw Toulon condemned to the Challenge Cup, the Barrages provide the weekend drama, with Connacht due to face one or other of the losing sides. For a while it looked like a trip to Castres could be a possibility after their comeback bonus-point win against Toulon, but three second half penalties from Stade Francais in the Basque Country saw Castres drop to seventh, putting them in the path of either Leinster or Munster.
As it stands the Barrages will see Racing at home to Stade in the Friday night derby, while Clermont, who beat La Rochelle while allowing them to hold on to the losing bonus they needed for second place, make the trip to Bordeaux the following night. Both games are live on Freesports, as Premier Sports have recently acquired the UK and Ireland rights to the Top 14 after a long absence from our screens.
Racing are firm favourites over their rivals, and the Stade Jean Bouin would certainly be my preferred destination if we are Paris bound, despite our near heroics in La Defense on All-Ireland Sunday last December.
On Saturday, Bordeaux are five point favourites to prevail at home to Clermont. While the intrepid adventurers amongst us will fancy the trip to the Auvergne, our proven ability to win in the faded splendour of the Stade Chaban-Delmas might have some of us shouting for the Yellow Army. Neither will be easy opponents though, so for a chance to progress, we’ll probably be hoping for the Parisian ball to come out of the hat when the time comes.
Of course, this all comes with the caveat that the competition might follow a new format, but assuming what I have assumed, a brief summary of our potential opponents is:
Northampton or the winner of Wasps v Leicester
One of the losers of Racing v Stade Francais or Bordeaux v Clermont
Enjoy the drama …